Today's Papers

Trailer for Sale

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with more on the weapons of mass destruction debacle. Where might they be? The Marines’ top dog says he’s surprised they haven’t turned up by now. He also says U.S. pre-war intelligence on Iraq was “simply wrong.” George Tenet steps up to bat for his team (the CIA). The New York Times top non-local story reports on an al-Qaida training camp in the southern Philippines.

Lt. Gen. James Conway, the Marines’ No. 1, says U.S. intelligence was erroneous in its assessment that Saddam Hussein intended to use chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. during the war, according to the LAT lead. He’s also surprised that he and his charges have yet to uncover any weapons of mass destruction. “It’s not for lack of trying,” he says in the LAT. “We’ve been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they’re simply not there.”

Or are they? Later in the LAT lead and in a separate fronter in the WP, President Bush says U.S. troops have “found the weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. He’s talking about two trailers—not double-wides but mobile biological weapons labs, which he says are illegal and violate U.N. resolutions. But they are not themselves weapons, of course. As the WP neatly puts it, “Bush administration officials have recently been stressing a hunt for ‘weapons programs’ instead of weapons themselves.” Even so, the LAT says there’s no evidence that the trailers were used to manufacture illegal agents.

Meanwhile, back in Washington (Bush is in Poland), George Tenet says, essentially, that the CIA calls it like it sees it, does its best, tries hard, and so forth, and does not take politics into account when compiling evidence, the WP reports. Tenet’s uninspired defense of his agency came in response not to Conway’s “simply wrong” charge, but to a memorandum to Bush from a group of retired intelligence officials—Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. The memo expressed a  “growing mistrust and cynicism” over “intelligence cited by you and your chief advisers to justify the war against Iraq.” Active intel agents say the seniors have been out of the game too long to speak credibly about current operations.

The NYT ignores the Conway/Tenet/retirees controversy, going instead (for its top non-local story) with the discovery of an al-Qaida training facility in the southern Philippines. It’s actually an al-Qaida affiliate called Jemaah Islamiyah, and they’ve been training at “inaccessible, rough-hewn sites” on the island of Mindanao. The group was linked to the nightclub bombing that killed over 200 people in Bali last year. “In one class, students learn to take apart a watch, then put it together again as a timer for an explosive device. … There is also a heavy dose of Islamic religious teaching,” according to the Times. The paper also reports that al-Qaida has reestablished bases elsewhere, including Kenya, Sudan, and Chechnya.

The NYT reports that Florida’s “Scarlet Letter” law, having already been found unconstitutional, has now been repealed. The law required any woman planning to put her baby up for adoption to take out weekly newspaper ads publicizing her name, physical description, and sexual history. The idea was to give the father a chance to exercise his parental rights before the adoption took place. “Only a male-dominated legislature could possibly pass a law that facilitates adoptions by requiring public humiliation of women,” says the head of the Florida ACLU. “You’ve got to have a real narrow vision to congratulate the governor for signing a repeal of a statute that … the courts struck down as unconstitutional.” Some state lawmakers say they didn’t read the legislation carefully before voting for it. 

“In the last 35 years,” Felicia Lee writes in the NYT’s Arts & Ideas section, “more than 100 countries have tried to accomplish what Iraq is trying to do: create a democratic constitution.” First-time framers face fearsome obstacles, resulting in a new cottage industry: constitutional consultants. These are frequently American scholars, who “are often seduced by the mythology of their own constitution, the oldest written democratic constitution, as a document that can and should be reproduced around the world.”

Finally, a LAT fronter takes us to Vegas, where the boom has gone bust. In the ‘90s, the town began to diversify, remaining faithful to the gambler while also wooing the tourist. Myriad spectacles sprang up: the 5,034-room MGM Grand; the Mirage, with its rare white tigers and faux volcano that erupts every 15 minutes; the Paris Las Vegas, with its 50-story Eiffel Tower; and the Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, with a “stable” (LAT’s word) of 6,000 entertainers. With 9/11, the economy, and now SARS, the cherries have turned to lemons. The lesson, as the LAT puts it: “Gamblers ignore recessions. Tourists don’t.”